Pest Management Professional chronicled six women who have made pest management their calling. Each one forged her own path toward success — and learned some lessons along the way.
Industry leaders come in all shapes, sizes — and yes, genders, too. Look no further than the executives of the National Pest Management Association (CEO Dominique Stumpf, CMP, CAE); the United Producers, Formulators and Distributors Association (Executive Director Valera Jessee); and the current Top 3 executives for the Association of Structural Pest Control Regulatory Officials (Liza Fleeson Trossbach, president; Linda Johns, vice president; and Irene King, secretary).
But what about the next generation of leaders? Is the industry doing enough to ensure a diverse mix of backgrounds to reflect the customers it serves? How do we get beyond the stereotype of little boys using bugs to make little girls scream?
In 1978, Dr. Susan Jones was a college senior at Louisiana State University. The Bayou State native was hoping to continue her urban entomology studies in the master’s program, focusing on termites. She was the second of five children, however, and money was tight.
The late Dr. Jeff LaFage, Dr. Jones’ mentor and a champion of termite research, submitted her name for a state urban entomology scholarship. Dr. Jones — who had been valedictorian of her high school — lost. She says the scholarship committee assumed that because she was a woman, she wouldn’t enter a crawlspace.
“They didn’t even ask me whether I would, let alone whether I had,” laments Dr. Jones, who received her doctorate from the University of Arizona in 1987. “It was ironic, because I have been in countless crawlspaces over my career.”
Dr. LaFage was angry, but undeterred. He advised Dr. Jones to try for a Pi Chi Omega scholarship, even though historically the industry fraternity only gave it to Purdue University students.
This time, Dr. Jones prevailed.
“I’m not only the first female recipient of the scholarship — and by virtue of that, the first female member of Pi Chi Omega,” she says. “I’m also the first non-Purdue student to be awarded the honor.”
From books to bugs
Dr. Jones has loved insects and nature since childhood, citing the Gene Stratton-Porter young adult novel A Girl of the Limberlost as an early inspiration. The teenage heroine, Elnora Comstock, overcomes her impoverished background by collecting and selling moth specimens from a local swamp.
Dr. Jones wasn’t, however, as initially infatuated with termites as Dr. LaFage was. “I wrote home to my mother, ‘I hope I never see another termite in my life,’” she recalls with a laugh. But after experiencing a swarm firsthand in the lab, Dr. Jones fell in love with termites. “They fascinated me,” she adds.
During her 1980-94 stint with the U.S. Forest Service, Dr. Jones helped pioneer research on termite baits.
In 2000, she joined The Ohio State University as a state extension specialist. Her research now also encompasses bed bugs and other urban pests.
Dr. Jones reflects on how, as a child she watched as her father frequently changed jobs. He never was truly satisfied in his work, but instead dutifully went about it to provide for his family.
“My desire was to find something that not only I loved, but provided stable income,” she says. “In urban entomology, I found both.”
Employer: The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
Years in pest management: 38
Advice for women in pest management: “I’ve gone to elementary schools for outreach among young kids, showing them how much fun entomology can be. Right away, especially among some girls, there’s a fear factor, an ick factor that we have to fight. It’s a cultural norm. To combat it, I show all of the children the beauty in an insect, the gorgeous colorings, the detail: ‘Let me explain some of the behaviors. Watch these termites as they follow a chemical trail in ink.’ It opens up a new world for them.”
[Also view the feature stories on Erica Brister, Jo Cook, Glynnis Anderson, Shay Runion and Judy Black, BCE.]
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